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Nigerian English Words You Won’t Find in Any Modern Dictionary

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Nigerian English is filled with words that are either exclusively invented by Nig...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Nigerian English is filled with words that are either exclusively invented by Nigerian English speakers or that are retained from long forgotten archaic British English. These qualities, that is, lexical invention and archaism, ensure that the words can’t be found in any modern English dictionary.  Here are 13 of them:

1. “Disvirgin.” As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, you will never find “disvirgin” in any dictionary apart from Wikitionary, a dictionary that anyone can contribute to and edit. It is an entirely Nigerian English invention. No other variety of English in the world uses the word, except perhaps Ghanaian English, which shares many similarities with Nigerian English. Native English speakers use “deflower” to mean “deprive of virginity,” although it’s now unusual to hear native speakers use the word in everyday conversations because of cultural shifts in gender relations.

A rarely used alternative to “deflower” is “devirginate.” The word is so rare that many reputable English dictionaries don’t have an entry for it. For instance, it doesn’t appear in the most current edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English. In all the years I’ve lived among native English speakers, I’ve never heard anyone use it. 

2. “Opportuned.” Like “disvirgin,” this word does not exist in any English dictionary. It is an entirely Nigerian English word that was formed in ignorance. What exists in English dictionaries is “opportune,” without “d” at the end. Opportune means “timely” or “well-timed.” E.g. “Wait for an opportune moment to tell him how you really feel.” In Nigerian English, we use “opportuned” where “privileged” is the appropriate word to use. Where we would say, “I am opportuned to speak to this august gathering,” other English speakers would say, “I am privileged to speak to this august gathering.”

3. “Rearer.” In Nigerian English, this word almost always collocates with “cattle,” as in: “cattle rearer.” I have never heard anyone described to as a “goat rearer” or a “sheep rearer” in Nigeria, perhaps because Nigerians don’t raise goats and sheep in as large numbers as they raise cattle. In the last three years or so, however, “rearer” has been replaced with “herdsmen.” Almost no Nigerian now says “cattle rearer,” but when I first pointed out the oddity of the word years ago, most Nigerians used it.

 The first hint that “rearer” is an unusual word comes from Microsoft Word, which disfigures the word with its cheeky red underline to indicate that the word is not in its internal dictionary. But Microsoft is not always a reliable measure of a word’s acceptability. First, its word bank is severely limited, especially for academics like me who use “big,” unusual, and sesquipedalian vocabularies in our academic writing. Second, it has a notoriously pro-American bias in its linguistic idiosyncrasies, especially if your computer is bought in America.

It turns, however, that “rearer” is actually an old-fashioned or obsolescent British English word. When I searched for it on Google years ago, I found that it appeared only on Nigerian, Indian, and British Guyanese themed websites. I found no contemporary use of the term in British newspapers. Nor did I find it in American, Canadian, Australian, or New Zealand websites. So I searched for “herder,” the term I’ve heard native speakers use for what Nigerians used to call “rearer” and found millions of contemporary uses of the term in British and American news media websites. I modified the search to “cattle herder,” and my keywords yielded over 3 million matches. But a search for “cattle rearer” turned up only a little over 66,000 matches, mostly from the websites of former British colonies.

It is obvious, based on the foregoing, that “rearer” is an archaic British English word that has been replaced with “herder.” However, as is often the case, people on the periphery of the development of a language (such as Nigerian English speakers) are usually the last to catch on to new vocabularies, semantic shifts, and novel usage patterns that occur in the center of development of a language. Surprisingly, Nigerians appear to have caught on now.

4. “Convocate.” This is an archaic and rare word that you won’t find in most modern dictionaries. Its modern form is “convoke.” But the verb of choice in Nigerian English for the convening of the formal ceremony for the award of degrees is “convocate,” as in: “our school convocated last Saturday.” Native speakers don’t even use “convoke,” the modern alternative to “convocate,” in that sense. They simply say something like, “Our school had a convocation last Saturday.” Convoke is often used in relation to formal meetings or gatherings, as in: convoke a conference or convoke a meeting of the National Assembly/the Federal Executive Council, etc.

5. “Gisted.” The verb form of this word is not known to any other variety of English outside Nigerian English. Native speakers say “chitchat” where Nigerians say “gist.” In Standard English, gist is usually a noun that means the central idea of a conversation, a speech, an argument, etc., as in: “what is the gist of the president’s long broadcast?” Gist is never used as a verb in Standard English, and it has not the remotest semantic connection with light informal conversations.

6. “Detribalized.” Nigerians use this word as an adjective of approval for someone who isn’t wedded to narrow ethnic or communal allegiances; it describes a person who is nationalist, cosmopolitan, liberal, progressive, and broadminded. But that’s not the way native English speakers understand and use the word. “Detribalized” as an adjective is a uniquely Nigerian invention.

“Detribalize” exists as a verb in Standard English. To “detribalize,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, is to “remove (someone) from a traditional tribal social structure.” In Australia, for instance, English settlers forcefully took away children from their parents and took them to white foster homes to “detribalize” them, in other words, to take the “tribe” out of them, to “civilize” them. That program was called “detribalization.” It arose out of the notion that “tribes” are a collection of savages that need to be civilized—or “detribalized.”

This is the usage advice that the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary gives on the use of the word tribe: “In historical contexts the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts it is problematic when used to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote underdeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people.”

I have written at least five previous articles in the past years calling attention to the impropriety of calling modern people anywhere “tribes.” It is racist and ignorant.

7. “Jealousing." I have heard many young Nigerians say something like, “she is jealousing me because of my success.” I thought this unusually nonstandard usage of “jealous” was confined to Nigerian Pidgin English until I heard supposedly educated young Nigerians use it. Well, jealous has no verb form in any dictionary.

8. “Instalmentally.” This is a uniquely Nigerian English word. In Standard English, installment—or “instalment” if you prefer British spelling—does not take the “ly” form when it’s used as an adverb of manner. Its adverbial form is “in installments.” So it is, “I will pay for my laptop in installments,” not “I will pay for my laptop installmentally.”

9. “Talkless.” As I wrote a few weeks ago, no such word exists in any English dictionary.

10. “Goodluck.” You won’t find this word in any dictionary. What you’ll find is “good luck.” The rise of Goodluck Jonathan to the Nigerian presidency caused Nigerians to spell “good luck” as “goodluck.”

11. “Trafficate.” This is a Nigerian English backformation from “trafficator,” itself an archaic British English word formed from a blend of “traffic” and “indicator.” Native speakers say “indicate” or “signal” where Nigerians say “trafficate,” and “indicator” or “turn signal” where Nigerians say “trafficator.”

12. “Overspeeding.” This is not a uniquely Nigerian English word. Indians, Pakistanis, and other English-speaking Asians use it where native English speakers simply say “speeding.” Overspeeding is obviously archaic British English, which explains why most modern dictionaries have no entry for it.

13. “Confusionist.” In Nigerian English, this means one who causes confusion. Native English speakers would find that meaning strange and unrecognizable. The word does not exist in most dictionaries. Wherever it exists, it’s used as an alternative spelling of Confucianist, that is, a believer in the teachings of Confucius. 

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